Two years ago, the pandemic imposed an abrupt reduction or interruption of tourist flows in the country and the world in general, due to the containment measures that were implemented to contain the spread of the virus. In this period alone, several establishments closed and caused, until last year, 18 thousand layoffs, with losses reaching 4636 million meticais in turnover, according to data from the CTA.
This year, the Government decided, in February, to decree the relaxation of measures to prevent and combat the pandemic in order to revive the various sectors of the economy, including Tourism, which, by the way, was the most affected.
To the Diário Económico, the president of the Tourism, Associations and Catering Sector of the Economic Confederations (CTA), Muhammad Abdullah, tells us how the sector is recovering.
What analysis do you make about the tourism sector six months after the relaxation of measures to prevent and combat covid-19 in Mozambique?
After what was surely one of the darkest phases in world tourism, there is no doubt that these months have been a huge breath of fresh air, something that we have also felt in our country.
However, the impact of something with the dimension and scale of this pandemic in Tourism in countries such as Mozambique, which still have very little developed and diversified sectors, was even greater and more devastating than in other countries. For example, in countries with well-developed domestic tourism, there was the ability to counteract the sharp falls in international tourism, betting heavily on tourism targeted at nationals and residents of those countries. Unfortunately, for Mozambique there was no such alternative.
In addition, structurally our sector is still not very resilient, and the companies that make it up, most of which are small and have few resources, end up being very exposed to the impact of a crisis of this size. This caused layoffs to increase and even many companies to close.
Therefore, despite the relaxation of measures to prevent and combat covid-19 and there has been a noticeable recovery, the impact of this recovery is relatively limited, considering that the sector suffered losses that are unrecoverable.
What has changed since then?
With the reopening of the world to travel, Tourism returned with great strength in most of the world and this positively affected our country and our tourism. Despite the added difficulties with the granting of border visas, the numbers in terms of international tourism are enlightening. We are rapidly moving towards pre-pandemic volumes in terms of flights.
As for the measures adopted by the Government for the crisis in tourism, what effects did they bring to the sector?
Our Government played a crucial role in the management of this crisis, with several decisions that were both difficult and right, and that looked after the future of our sector as well as the country itself. I have not the slightest doubt about that.
Contrary to what I have seen suggested by some public opinion, examples from other countries were not and are not transferable to ours. We are talking about realities and, mainly, about completely different tourism sectors in terms of development and diversification.
The truth is, as I have had the opportunity to mention on several occasions, our sector has to go through a process of development and solidification that simply has not happened yet. Gaining robustness and capacity to create alternatives when crises arise does not happen overnight. What I mentioned before in relation to domestic tourism is just one example.
I know that our government is very concerned about our sector and has already shown that it is counting on the private sector to help us work together to achieve the development and robustness that we all aspire to.
Many times things do not happen at the time or in the way we most desire, but we know that in the interests of our homeland, the tourism sector has its place, and we have to accept that, many times, this place is not the first one.
However, this does not mean lack of interest or commitment on the Government’s side. The proof is in the opening of channels for dialogue and joint work with the private sector. This proximity with the private sector is crucial for this very reason: because it brings an added capacity to work in favor of the sector.
In terms of concrete numbers, how many tourists have entered the country this year? Is there an improvement?
There is, without a doubt, a clear improvement in what concerns the flow of international tourists arriving in our country. The reference numbers we have are from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and are clear in relation to this recovery of the pre-pandemic volumes.
We are also aware that some of the top travel agencies in our country have been registering record sales volumes month after month. As it was before the pandemic, this is mostly business tourism, and therefore with a limited impact in relation to other tourism products, but it is a clear sign of the recovery of the sector in our country.
How long will it take for national tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels?
If we are talking only and exclusively about sales volume, judging by IATA’s official information regarding flights, we are quickly approaching what were the levels before the pandemic. However, if we go deeper and look at what effectively constituted national tourism before and after the pandemic, namely the number of companies and workers involved directly or indirectly, it is very difficult to make a prediction in this sense.
“The great challenges for the sector are deeper and are based on the same fundamental (and structural) principle of what we want for the future of the sector”
It is essential that we recover all the good that has been lost with this pandemic because this is directly linked to the increase in tourism supply solutions which, in turn, is directly linked to the increase in competitiveness in the sector, which will be reflected in an increase in the quality of national tourism.
This is one of the fundamental steps, not only to recover the pre-pandemic levels, but for the development and strengthening of the sector, being also the basis for the desired diversification, increase and robustness that I mentioned earlier.
What are the main challenges of the sector today? Tourist visas? More flights?
The development of the sector is like a marathon that will necessarily have multiple tests and obstacles along the way. The resolution of the problem of tourist visas or the increase in the number of flights are obstacles that I am sure we will be able to overcome.
I think that the great challenges for the sector are deeper and are based on the same fundamental (and structural) principle of what we want for the future of the sector, namely how it can be autonomous, self-sufficient, integrating and transforming the different communities and regions of our country:
Autonomous and self-sufficient because we need a sector capable of creating a tourism offer that is complete and versatile enough to exploit the different resources and unique conditions that Mozambique offers, thus ensuring a real capacity to react to an eventual generalized breakdown of one type of tourism – as happened with this pandemic – having a market dependent only and only on Mozambicans or residents and the Mozambican tourism product.
Integrating and transforming communities and regions because we need a sector that is an economic engine capable of integrating local communities, generating wealth and purchasing power for Mozambicans, while at the same time promoting the development of infrastructure, increasing the quality of life and value of the affected regions.
With the problem created by the pandemic, we were confronted with the lack of solutions in our sector and we realized what we need in order not to go through these difficulties again. So here we have a golden opportunity to change this paradigm, facing the great challenges that we have as the great definers of what we want for our Tourism in Mozambique.